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CULTURE DIGEST: Bush touts programs that help teens

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–While America is heading in the right direction by reducing crime and drug use among teenagers, President Bush said “we still have work to do” in changing the current culture.

“Every day in America, parents struggle to raise their children in a culture that too often glorifies instant gratification and irresponsible behavior,” Bush said during his July 17 radio address. “During this time of great change in our nation, government must stand with families to help them raise healthy, responsible children.”

Citing statistics released July 16 in the government’s annual report called “America’s Children in Brief,” the president said the rate of teens committing violent crimes dropped 78 percent from 1993 to 2002 and the rate of teens becoming victims of violent crimes dropped by 74 percent during the same time period. Bush also said smoking and illicit drug use have declined among the nation’s youth, and teen birth rates have fallen to the lowest levels ever recorded.

“Studies tell us that children raised in a household with married parents are far less likely to live in poverty, fail at school or have behavioral problems,” he said. “Fortunately, after a decades-long downward trend, the percentage of children living with married parents has remained steady since 1995.”

The president said his administration is working to help teenagers make healthy choices. In his budget, Bush proposed spending an additional $23 million for random school drug testing because it helps identify kids who need help, he said. And because about 3 million teenagers contract sexually transmitted diseases each year, the Bush administration has requested a doubling of federal funding for abstinence-only education programs.

Also in Bush’s budget is a proposed $25 million for the Character Education Initiative to encourage schools to develop curricula that promote good character and help children develop a sense of responsibility to their community.

“When parents, schools and government work together, we can counter the negative influences in today’s culture and send the right messages to our children,” Bush said. “… we are making progress in changing the culture of America from one that said, ‘If it feels good, do it,’ and ‘If you’ve got a problem, blame somebody else,’ to a culture in which each of us understands we are responsible for the decisions we make in life.”

BUSH-BASHING TIRADES — Slim-Fast weight-loss products terminated comedian Whoopi Goldberg as its spokesperson July 14 in the face of mounting boycott threats after Goldberg made headlines at a Kerry-Edwards fundraiser for using vulgarity in spouting sexual puns on the president’s name.

Much of the July 8 fundraiser at Radio City Music Hall was characterized by slams against the president from stars such as Chevy Chase, Paul Newman, John Mellencamp and Meryl Streep.

At the end of the event, John Kerry voiced his approval of the night’s festivities and suggested those who took part shared the same views as most Americans. “Every performer tonight, in their own way, either verbally or through their music, through their lyrics, have conveyed to you the heart and soul of our country,” Kerry said.

Meanwhile, singer Linda Ronstadt was not allowed to finish her stay at a Las Vegas casino after she dedicated a performance of “Desperado” to Michael Moore and his film “Fahrenheit 9/11” during a July 17 concert, according to Reuters. About a quarter of the 4,500 people in the audience walked out, with some throwing drinks at and tearing down posters of Ronstadt and demanding their money back.

The singer was then escorted out of the hotel and was not allowed to personally gather her things from her room. A statement issued by the Aladdin hotel said the performer would not be welcomed back.

Rocker Ozzy Osbourne sang “War Pigs” at a concert July 14 while projecting an image of Bush with Adolf Hitler in yet another political statement by a celebrity. After complaints, the song was dropped from Osbourne’s shows.

Though disturbing to some, behavior of this kind is not new, according to presidential scholar Doug Brinkley of the Eisenhower Center. He told USA Today that celebrities, especially musicians, have long caused controversy during times of war. Brinkley attributed this in large part to many celebrities who like to see themselves as pacifists and “aren’t deep intellectual thinkers.”

CULTURAL ODDITIES — The question of whether the name of Los Angeles should be changed was raised after the county decided to remove a small cross from its official seal in June.

“The cross is a minor symbol on the county seal whereas Los Angeles is the ‘City of Angels,'” Joerg Knipprath, a professor of constitutional law at the Southwestern University School of Law, told the Los Angeles Daily News. “San Clemente, Santa Monica, Sacramento, San Francisco, etc., are all religious references. It’s far-fetched at this point. I don’t think it’s going to happen in the next 10 years. But if somebody said 10 or 20 years ago that we were going to challenge the Pledge of Allegiance or this tiny cross on the county seal, the argument would have been that was far-fetched too.”

The Daily News said a strong legal argument could be made against the name of Los Angeles, mainly that it violates the separation of church and state. The city’s official name is “The Town of Our Lady the Queen of Angels of the Little Portion.”

— Following the example set by Hollywood celebrities, Barbie has replaced Ken with a “hip” Australian surfer named Blaine. Mattel, maker of the popular Barbie doll, announced earlier this year that Barbie and Ken had broken off their 43-year romance. More than 2 million people logged on to Barbie.com to vote for a new beau, according to CNN.com, and Blaine is expected to debut in stores in August.

“It’s certainly getting grown-ups like you talking about Barbie, and the metaphor that they are using reflects the majority of people’s fascination with celebrity,” Chris Byrne, an independent toy consultant, told CNN.

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  • Erin Curry